Let’s say we get about 10 to 15 new trailers each week; that makes about 650 a year. That’s a lot of promos, but considering I’ve watched each and every one while curating Best and Worst Movie Trailers of the Week throughout the year, pinpointing the top and bottom 10 of 2013 wasn’t all that hard. However, narrowing those numbers down to five for each category was another story. Hours of unforgettable dialogue, abysmal voiceover, ideal soundtrack choices and poor editing later, we’ve got our five best and worst movie trailers of 2013. Enjoy.

The Best Stuff

5. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

There’s a reason The Hunger Games is an epic success. Well, there are many, but one key factor is the highly effective marketing effort. The folks at Lionsgate absolutely know how to milk the hype and they know how to do it with class, style and in a manner that puts story first. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire trailer campaign wasn’t just a haphazard string of promos dished out at prime times; they told a story and I’m partial to the one that focused on the tail end of that story, the film’s final trailer. Clocking in at a mere one minute and six seconds, this piece moves to an impeccable beat, setting a beautiful tone and pace before launching into a rip-roaring string of shots that truly will have you on the edge of your seat, upping the suspense tenfold before culminating in that downright heartbreaking shot of Katniss suffering the effects of the Jabberjays, a vicious grand finally with an undeniable power to make a big impression.

4. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

It’s tough not to run with this little gem that conveys so much without a stitch of dialogue, but this honor goes to another Secret Life of Walter Mitty trailer that brings short-form promotional storytelling to a new level in a number of respects. To start, the first minute functions as a complete, fulfilling little story in and of itself. Had someone used that to pitch the full feature, there’s no doubt they’d get the necessary attention. At that point, you’re already so absorbed in the world and connected to Walter Mitty that the expositional portion of the piece feels natural, functioning as material that both broadens the story and the character. By the time Of Monsters and Men’s “Dirty Paws” – a song that I’ll forever associate with this marketing campaign – rolls into the chorus, you’re so invested in his situation that the combination between the visuals, music and connection to the character makes the piece’s conclusion so uplifting that the trailer finishes with a feel-good effect and of course, that leaves you wanting more.

3. The Wolf of Wall Street

The full feature is an outrageous, ravenous, drug-fueled romp and so is this trailer, and both are totally infectious. Every ounce of this promo has “inappropriate” written all over it, but similar to Jordan Belfort’s experience in the stockbroking business, it’s tough not to get caught up in it all and have a little too much fun doing all the wrong things when they can feel so right. A movie trailer isn’t a music video, but when you can pace a promo to a beat while conveying the narrative basics, you get the best of both worlds – it gets you bobbing your head to a beat and it also gets you absorbed in the story. This Wolf of Wall Street trailer is a particularly genius combination of the two because the beat of Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead” pairs so well with the debauchery of Belfort’s life. Then the trailer editors take the pairing one step further by manipulating the track to highlight certain scenes by giving them some breathing room. In the end, you’re not just walking away from this Wolf of Wall Street trailer with a broad appreciation for the tone and style conveyed; you’re holding on to details too. While that does compel you to catch a movie, then, once you’ve seen it, it also makes you look forward to watching it again.

2. Gravity

When a single scene from a movie functions as an exceedingly successful marketing tool, you know you’re in good shape. The promotional effort for Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is loaded with prime trailers, but the standout is definitely “Detached.” This isn’t just a movie trailer; this is a highly efficient, self-sustaining experience. Even if you approach this piece as a casual watch, within seconds suspense levels are sky-high and your jaw hits the floor at the sight of the third astronaut as he’s violently ripped from his post at the other end of the ship. As though a mere one-minute-and-36-second promo can’t get more emotionally exhausting, then Sandra Bullock rips your heart out with the prospect of being lost in space, alone, forever.

1. The Boxtrolls

When it comes to movie trailers, strong storytelling is typically vital for the piece to hit home, but in the case of this unique promo for The Boxtrolls, it’s not plot points but rather the understanding of what it takes to pull a film like this together that gives the material an incredible amount of weight. The combination of the music, visuals and pacing is downright mesmerizing and even bears a heartfelt effect that makes you care about the animator’s creations even before they’re brought to life. And then, by the time we do get to see living, breathing Boxtrolls, it’s exponentially more satisfying and moving than had the piece been solely devoted to finished footage.

The Worst Stuff

5. Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas

I’m not a big Madea fan in general and certainly didn’t care for A Madea Christmas, but there’s still no excuse for this trailer to fall this flat. The full feature has a totally nonsensical narrative that is absolutely brimming with unfunny jokes, but this teaser trailer is a separate entity. The whole thing seems rehearsed so perhaps turning it into a candid stunt could have reaped more laughs, but the bigger problem is that either way, a piece like this comes down to the character. A poor script can suck the life out of charming main player, but in this case, Madea is the heart and soul of the teaser so after watching it, you’re not judging A Madea Christmas; you’re judging her and, odds are, you’ll be thinking her jokes are lame, mean-spirited and that the character has lost all appeal.

4. Tarzan

When the content of a feature is pure garbage, there isn’t much that can be done to turn it into an appealing promotional campaign, but the folks at Constantin dug their own grave, so now it’s time to lay in it. Each and every promo released for their animated version of Tarzan is of rock-bottom quality, but it was that first video that brought up the E.T. component of the story that absolutely crushed all chances of taking this movie seriously. The animation has been second rate and even rather creepy with an odd mixture of realistic body movements and cartoonish faces from day one, but the whole extraterrestrial-object scenario proved that this film is totally hopeless. Grinding this steaming heap into the ground even further is Kellan Lutz’ onomatopoeia version of the roar. Decimate an iconic yell, why do you?

3. The Canyons

This is easily the most unappealing marketing campaign of the year, but there’s one trailer for The Canyons that’s the ultimate turnoff, the one in which a one-minute-and-15-second promo trying to sell a movie uses 25 seconds to s**t all over seeing movies in theaters. It’d be one thing if there were a point to Lindsay Lohan’s speech or even the smallest degree of insight, but all we’re left with is, “They’re just not my thing.” It’s movie-marketing suicide. But even if this trailer for The Canyons had made it past the 30-second mark, it would have expired your patience soon thereafter. The latter half of this one is like being trapped in a club, drowning in deafening music and strobes lights, only getting fleeting moments to catch glimpses of dry-humping and superficiality to the max. Real appealing, right?

2. Khumba

Somewhat similar to Nemo and his little fin, the concept of a zebra rocking only half his stripes had all the potential in the world, but this miserable voiceover sucks all the life and heart out of the scenario. Trailer narration is almost never a good thing. It suggests the full film doesn’t have a clear enough trajectory to churn out a cohesive sample of the story and it often feels condescending, and this trailer for Khumba is certainly guilty of both. There’s absolutely no flow to the narrative in the promo whatsoever. Khumba’s got half his stripes – BOOM – he needs to find a magical waterhole – WHOOSH – all plot points disappear, but look at the cute animals! There’s no build whatsoever, just a flat montage of mediocre animation and dull jokes with an unnecessary voiceover spelling out each and every thing you’re seeing along the way. If Khumba does turn out to be the “experience of a lifetime,” I vow to write a heartfelt apology piece and dole out the cash to buy the thing on DVD.

1. Journey to the South Pacific

The miserable use of voiceover strikes again! IMAX 3D documentary-type pieces don’t really have a choice when it comes to the use of narration in promos, but the company behind this one could have done better than this. This woman sounds like she’s selling a discount family-vacation package, not an IMAX 3D experience. And who is this piece targeting anyway? It’s either “save money and see this film instead of splurging on the real deal” for adults or a big fat “yawn” for kids. There’s nothing riveting about it. Even if the full film is just a tour of the South Pacific, a trailer still needs to have a build, something to leave you wanting more. However, in the case of Journey to the South Pacific’s promo, it feels like it’s laying all of its cards on the table and when you walk away with that sensation, why would you want to see more?

Thanks for joining me for another year of Best and Worst Movie Trailers of the Week. Looking forward to the new crop of thoughtful, effective and irresistible trailers to come!

 

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